How to Overcome a Lack of Motivation: Part 6 - Do You Have a "Vitamin P" Deficiency?
When was the last time your abs and cheek muscles got tired from full-bellied laughter?
Can you even remember the last time you felt so enraptured in fun that you 1) lost track of time and 2) felt a physical glow of satisfaction when you were done?
Given all that's going on in the world, it seems like poor timing for me to write an article about the topic of play.
Who has time to play (or even think about playing) while the burdens of the world weigh heavier on our shoulders than ever before?
Shouldn't we all be taking the time to work on more important matters?
As I thought about the above questions it struck me how much the sentiments behind them are reinforcing the covid trauma we are all living through.
Yes, we all have a palpable, elevated level of stress these days, but here's the problem: The less we play, the less exciting it is to be alive.
It's easy (and natural) to neglect play (and art/beauty for that matter) when stress is high.
Yet, here's the deal...
Play is a real human need.
It's not optional.
It's not something for the weak.
It's not a sign of being lazy.
It's not something we can delay or neglect without detriment to both our emotional sanity and (perhaps ironically) our productive capacity.
Play is its own essential "vitamin", or what I like to call "Vitamin P."
It's an invigorating source of joy that makes life worth living.
And boy oh boy couldn't we all use a little more of that these days?
Here's another cool aspect of play...
PLAY IS ALSO AN ANTIDOTE TO DIVISIVENESS
I know it's not just me that feels the tension fraying at the hems of our social circles, so consider this: When we play together, we end up laughing together.
When you laugh, I smile...and somehow, I like you better.
When I see you come alive during play, it makes me want some of that feeling too.
Furthermore, a shared experience of having fun together helps us care about one another.
Has there ever been a time where genuinely caring about others was more needed?
In reflecting on some of the client transformations we've had over the years I realized how some of our most "stuck" clients have been the ones with the least developed sense of (and outlets/companions for) play.
As clients and I talk through the hard work needed to achieve life and health goals, one thing I often remind them (and not infrequently have to remind myself) is...
If you have an ongoing play deficiency, you're going to become stressed, unhealthy, and discontent. You'll live a shortened, frustrated, unproductive, unmotivated life and will find yourself lacking meaningful relationships later down the road.
With all that's going on, may we not forget how to important it is to have fun.
Now, I can already hear your objections, and at the top of the list I imagine is lack of time.
So, before I start giving you some practical thoughts on how to play and still honor your responsibilities, let's first take a quick look at...
WHAT IS PLAY?
To a child, asking the question "what is play" is nonsensical.
Kids (and I have five of them) don't need to be taught how to play.
Play is what you do between the times an adult is making you do something else.
Play is that world of imagination, creativity, and adventure that comes as a result of unstructured time.
You could say that play is the default setting of a mind allowed to wander.
In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul Stuart Brown defines play as:
"Pursing an activity for the sheer joy it brings."
In real play, there's no (obvious) connection to "the greater good."
Sadly, as we get older, most adults "mature" out of playing, or worse, we virtual signal by talking about how we're so busy with important matters that we never have time to play.
To compensate for our play deficiencies, some people try to cram a pent-up need to play into a once-annual vacation and then wonder why they feel discontent all the time.
Attempting to backfill a play deficiency with a vacation makes as much sense as taking supplements one week per year and expecting to meet your nutritional needs.
Play, like so many worthwhile aspect of life, needs regular touch points.
Think I'm crazy?
Consider this: When researching some of the most stressful jobs on the planet, Brown found that:
"When the going gets tough, the tough go play."
Consider these examples:
It has been said that war is 99% boredom and 1% terror.
How do warriors get through the crushing boredom?
They play games they know, or they make up new games.
Why are athletic locker rooms so full of playful smack talk?
Because we need a laugh to break up the arduous work of practice.
Why do movies with high-emotional drama give us breaks of humor and levity?
Because we need such moments to help us not get overwhelmed with a heavy plot.
Why do good documentaries always end with hope?
Because they need to balance the emotional scales and not leave us in despair.
Do you see the point?
Where there is hard work or high stress, there must be play.
Play is an important, ledger-balancing activity.
Without play, we crack.
I think it's safe to say we're living in a time where we can't afford to have our will broken.
So let's give play its due, and let's turn our attention to figuring out how to play, even despite the noisy, intrusive "play bandit" called covid.
Just last week on our group coaching call we were all reflecting on the question of how much attention do we need to pay to the news...and when are we just making ourselves unnecessarily stressed.
There aren't perfect, universally applicable answers to that question, but here are some principles that might help:
Principle #1: Monitor your hope/fear meter: When the news puts you into a fearful funk, and fills your head space with negativity, your media diet is bloated. It's time to back off, and get around positive people...for however long it takes to feel hopeful.
Principle #2: Pick your battles well: You can't fight every battle going on (censorship, mandates, elections, Afghanistan, vaccines, etc). Fight the battles you can fight, must fight, are most qualified to fight, and know that others are fighting where you can't.
Principle #3: Recalibrate your expectations: If you can't _______ while covid is going on, what can you do? How can you learn and grow so that on the other side of this you're set up for success? Take an online course, start a new group, get outdoors, practice a new skill. Start today.
Principle #4: Plan your play time: It sounds anathema to play, but play requires planning, or at least designated time. Nothing ruins a chance to play like waking up on a day off with no idea how to spend your time. Create a list of ways you like to play that fit different scenarios.
Since this article is about play, let me to reinforce #4 with an personal example:
THE PROBLEM OF "WINGING IT"
The biggest obstacle to healthy play...is not having a plan.
Tell me if you can relate to this...
You wake up on your day off and turn to your family/friend and say "What do you want to do today?"...to which they respond, "I don't know, what do you want to do?"
I sure have.
Nina and I noticed that recurring conversation and decided to do something about it.
So, Nina came up with a master list of options including indoor/outdoor ideas, as well as free/paid ideas, and we add to the list from time to time.
Even more helpful, she also came up with the idea for a weekly, family meeting.
One of the items we discuss weekly is how we want to play--we actually end our family meeting planning our fun time.
Side Note: After playing around with time slots, we found that by tacking our meeting onto something we are already in the habit of doing it was easier to make the meeting happen--i.e. our meeting fits best on a Sunday morning before church.
PUTTING PLAY INTO A HEALTHY RHYTHM
What I've found helpful is to think of play in daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual buckets.
I've found my daily play needs is only about 30-45 minutes. If I get less than that, I just end up staying up late--which inevitably throws off my next day.
Weekly I work to protect a stretch of 24 hours where I don't require myself to work. We typically take off from Saturday night to Sunday night.
We aim for one quarterly weekend getaway that gives us all something to look forward to, and when possible, planning an annual vacation (1-2 weeks) allows us the enjoyment of several months of anticipation.
Cool physiology/psychology tidbit: Simply daydreaming (looking at options) about an upcoming episode of play, fires the same circuits in your brain as actually being there--i.e. it offers similar refreshment compared to the actual events.
So, go daydream. It's free, and refreshing.
Here's an important lesson I learned:
When you're sleeping, resting, or playing, you're not wasting time, you're gathering strength.
Not only are you gathering strength, you're also...
Pushing stress out of your body.
Closing open loops in your thinking.
Creating space to process underlying emotion.
If you want to...
Be able to focus.
Feel alive and hopeful.
Make a difference in this world...
...you're going to need to find and protect time to play, and maybe even relearn how to play.
I would submit to you that our global play deficiency is part of the reason we're on edge and so easily prone to fear these days.
We don't have to live that way.
Yes, we may have to get creative about how we play in the months ahead, but we need to make play happen.
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
What would it look like to take a real break?
What would happen if you turn off the news and social media for a whole day? A weekend? Or heck, a week?
What daily, non self-sabotaging, go-to downtime activity, can you put into your routine?
Which of the above four principles can you take one minute to reflect on right now?
What one action can you take (today) to wedge some play back into your life?
I've covered some heavy-hitter topics in this series on motivation, but today I hoped I've helped you see the need to lighten things up.
Let's play because we need it to feel human.
If your motivation seems to be on sabbatical, maybe you've just forgotten how to play, and/or until today, no one gave you permission to play
You may not know me, but I give you permission to go have some fun.
In fact, I admonish you to do so--not endlessly, not as an abdication of duty, but precisely because I believe you have sacred duty to fight for what's right.
For you to be effective in your fight, we need you at your best.
Without play, you won't be.
So, give yourself, and the rest of us the gift of your best self.
Go let your hair down.
Play hard and rest up warrior.
We got this,
PS. If investing in health is one way you're interested to maximize your time during this weird era of covid, let's chat. I may be able to help. To find out more about what I do, check out this presentation or visit our website.